Locust attack threatens Food Security in Pakistan

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Dr Abdul Razak Shaikh;

The United Nations warns that locusts don’t wait, They will come and they will destroy the crops. This is the third time since 1993 that locusts are threatening to devastate crops in Pakistan. They have ruined cotton, wheat, maize, and tomatoes crops in Sindh, Balochistan, south Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Farmlands in Sindh once again came under a massive attack of locust swarms from Iran by the end of April 2020, which could prove even harmful for the crops in the province as compared to the locust attack of the last year.

Swarms of locusts are wreaking havoc in the agricultural heart of Pakistan, destroying crops in Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan This is the second locust attack in Pakistan in less than three months. The desert locusts, large herbivores that resemble grasshoppers arrived in Pakistan from Iran and spread to as far as the Pakistan-India border around the  Cholistan desert in Punjab after ravaging crops in Sindh and Balochistan. Iran has said that the southern part of the country was hit by locus attacks this winter after the insect migrated from the border areas of Pakistan and India. Iranian officials, however, warned that when the winds in Iran turned towards land, the locusts would return to Pakistan. To cope with the situation, according to sources, Iranian Ambassador to Pakistan Syed Mohammad Ali Hussaini has offered joint cooperation to Pakistan. The ambassador has stressed the need for the two countries to increase the budget and regional cooperation to fight this common threat. The ambassador has said that for the past few years, both Iran and Pakistan had been facing the problem of desert locust attacks but this year, the estimates suggested that the insect onslaught could the most severe in the last 50 years, the source said. The Iranian ambassador has pointed out that eliminating locust in Pakistan and India would not be possible without controlling it in Iran.

He has proposed anti-locus spray on crops before the attack and fighting the insect before laying eggs. The Iranian offer came days after Sindh’s Agriculture Minister Ismail Rahu warned of a second locust attack in the province, saying that swarms of the insect had entered Sindh and Balochistan from the neighbouring countries of India and Iran. Large Locust swarms are coming to Sindh from Balochistan. The Sindh government is considering to set up an agricultural emergency agency at the provincial level to fight locust. The Sindh government planned to buy more four-wheelers and spray equipment for use in the desert areas. The agriculture experts expressed concern over the federal government’s failure to help eradicate locusts in Sindh and demanded immediate aerial spray. According to the NDMA. Ghotki, Sukkur, Khairpur, Sanghar, Umerkot and Tharparkar districts of Sindh had suffered the most damage because of the locust attack. Swarms had also descended upon Nawabshah, Mirpurkhas, Badin, Thatta, Sujawal and Karachi. The terrifying informtion for farmers of the province was shared by officials of the Plant Protection Department (PPD), who attended a top-level meeting at Sindh Secretariat on the expected locust attack in the province. Chief Secretary Syed Mumtaz Ali Shah chaired the meeting. The officials of the PPD told the meeting that up to 60 countries around the world had been affected by locust swarms. The meeting was informed that some 30 spots had been identified in the province where camps would be established for tackling the issue of the impending locust attack.

Some 57 teams comprising 180 personnel are being formed to tackle the locust emergency in the province. Each team will comprise officials of the agriculture department and the PPD. A method of aerial sprays will be made use of to consume 100,000 litres of pesticide against locusts while 25,000 litres of pesticide will be used against the locust swarms by using the boom spray method. The chief secretary expressed the resolve to utilise all the available resources of the Sindh government to get rid of the issue of locust attacks against the farmlands of the province. He said that the government had commenced the process of pesticides for its use against locusts through aerial and other mechanical spray methods. Swarms of locusts have spread to many districts sparking fears of large-scale crop devastation in barrage areas. Farmers had to bear losses of a hundred thousand rupees due to crop loss. The Sindh government is taking measures to prevent crops from being attacked by locusts. Sindh chief Minister Murad Ali Shah penned a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan on last week, warning the premier about an expected locust an attack that might take place in the coming days. CM Shah said that the locusts could launch a massive attack on the fields of Sindh on May 15. Turkey on Wednesday handed over a purpose-built Piper Brave spray aircraft along with four crew members to Pakistan Air Force (PAF). The aircraft would be assembled before its departure for the pest infected areas in the country, especially in southern Sindh and northeastern Punjab, the PAF said. Turkey and Pakistan are all-weather friends and this gesture would help improve a comprehensive pest control system to overcome the locust plague, the PAF official said.

The writer is a MBBS; MAS (Master in Health Services Management) Retired from Health Department Govt. of Sindh.